KLA ART: Riding art to the market

02:57 by Kaggwa Andrew
One of the biggest problem art has faced over the years was a fact that the consumers didn’t know how and where to find it.
The ones who could, have claimed art is majorly a tourist thing and rather too expensive and complicated for the locals.
This may have been the backbone of the month long Kampala Contemporary Art festival that ended on Friday last week.
Running on the theme Unmapped, the festival had invited the city not to only see but indulge in the different processes artistes go through while turning rubbish, piles of color and converse into art.
To get the message across even to the last social personality, curators and organizers used the Uganda Railway – one of the prominent modes of transport in the 1970s and the boda bodas.
It is at the Railway station’s historical building that the festival exhibition was happening. This brought together ten artists from six African countries that included Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Ethiopia and of course Uganda.
 In their products, artists such as Paul Bukenya Katamiira, Vivian Mugume, Helen Nabukenya, Rwanda’s Tony Cyizanye and Tanzania’s Paul Ndunguru among others explored and proposed narratives around the festival’s theme.
They worked to unearth, challenge and represent the unmapped, unplanned and unheard artisan traders of their countries and major towns.
Katamiira’s efforts on unmapping the art of backcloth creation was simply impressive – with an experience spanning since 1968, the old man notes that he’s born in a family of backcloth makers whose history on the job lasts a whopping 300 years.
Probably one of the first people to document the process of creating a cloth out of the back of a fig tree, Katamiira is angered by a fact that some detractors think it doesn’t qualify as an art piece.
“Not everybody can make backcloth, it takes time, skill and science.”
Cyizanye was a voice for the voiceless with poor people that struggle to get their message to the politicians in vain with an ambitious painting aptly named My People – he used bright colors to present the free spirit, letting them talk.
The piece is mediation between the privileged and less privileged people though much of this is done in color than words.
Francis Nnagenda is a legend and having his work at the Kampala Contemporary art was a mega feat, he barely showcases in Kampala let alone Uganda, and as a result, the professor is more pronounced on the international market than in Uganda.
His Vendor on the Scaffold didn’t disappoint, he was talking and taking us on a journey of a woman that struggles to keep her baby safe as well as look for food to feed it.
And probably the most recognizable art piece of the entire festival – Helen Nabukenya’s Golden Heart, the threaded art piece hangs by the Railway Headquarters. It’s part of her heart breaking series Tuwaaye and it unites narratives of four women, she dwells on the social issues affecting them.
But that was just the exhibition held at the Railway offices within the festival. According to Robinah Nansubuga one of the festival curators, they used the Railway because it is and was the people’s means of transport.
The festival came at the time when plans to revive the almost defunct transport mode is in high gear; “it is a space that needs to be revived because it is a connecting point between neighboring relations and economies.”
Besides the exhibition, the festival’s highest point must have been influencing the locals to see, feel and care about art. This was through the interactive Boda boda project that saw twenty motorcycles create a mobile art exhibition touring the city.
Throughout the month, twenty of the country’s freshest contemporary artists and artist collectives converted Kampala’s iconic mean of transport into art pieces bearing different messages.
Each day, the exhibition would move to a different location and engaged the locals there. They were 28 locations like Makerere University, Wandegeya, Ntinda, Queens’s way and Owino Market among others.
During the KCCA festival at the beginning of the month, the Boda boda parade was the epitome of creativity with a range of motorcycles with imagery messages on road safety, working together and respecting one another.
Papa Shabani’s moving photo studio was breath taking, he invited locals to play card, enjoy games and other activities as they waited for him to take their pictures.
Then there was Joshua Kagimu and the Twezule which was made of rubbish and waste, it mostly included bottle tops, scratch cards, plastic and cloth fitted with a drum. Kagimu didn’t only modify the Boda but also turned it into a platform for street children to share their inner musical talents thus the name Twezule (self-discovery).
Kagimu notes that he was touched by many of the stories the children on the streets had to share as well as their impressive talents – most of them were aspiring rappers.
The Boda boda was used since it reaches out to all levels of Ugandans; “the survival means within the boda boda users is what we were interested in. it lies in between  creativity and responsibility which is why the only mediator was the artist to create his motorcycle as a voice to his audience,” says Nansubuga.
For the Artists’ studio, they opened their work spaces to the public giving them a chance to witness the creating process.
“I followed the Bodas to Kasubi, then Makerere and Wandegeya,” said one of the revelers who paid attention to the festival after learning it was free.
It may be too early to conclude that people have all of a sudden changed attitudes and thus appreciate creative minds, though with the power and message spread by art on the wheels, art may have as well rode its self through different local’s hearts.

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